By Samuel Gonzalez
With the ever-so-increasing diversification of cultures in the United States, the proliferation of Arabic terms in the hip-hop subculture, and the political unrest in countries like Afghanistan and Egypt, one is bound to hear common Arabic terms either on the television or in music or in public settings such as school or work. In the same way that lots of Spanish words are making their way into English pop culture, so too is Arabic making a distinct appearance into the English lexicon. Whether or not you are Muslim, this article will provide some helpful information on the word ‘Alhamdulillah.’
The Arabic language, with its flowy cadence and rhythmical nature, tends to weave words together, with definite articles and modifiers blending into one another, making it difficult to identify which word (or set of words) was just uttered. ‘Alhamdulillah’ is actually the beautiful union of four Arabic words, so breaking them down in this way might make the pronunciation easier and the meaning more understandable:
- ‘Al-’ the definite article meaning “the.”
- ‘hamdu-’ commonly translated as “praise” or “accolades.”
- ‘li-’ means “to” in English.
- ‘llah-’ is God.
The Meaning of ‘Alhamdulillah’
Now that we’ve broken down the pronunciation for you, let’s string it all together. As a result of the cultural and temporal gap between Classical Arabic and English, there can never be a perfect translation of a phrase from one language into the other. Arabic tends to be much more rich in meaning and nuanced, whereas English prefers to simplify the linguistic and communicative process. As a result, some translators have offered various interpretations of “Alhamdulillah.” Here are some of the more common translations:
- “All praise is due to God.”
- “Praises and thanks are due to God alone.”
- “All perfect praises belong to the Almighty.”
- “Praise be to God.”
As you can see they all refer to pretty much the same idea- directing all the praise and attention in the world towards the Almighty Creator. A non-Muslim may look at the phrase and have some questions: Who is the Creator and what is its nature? What is the nature of reality and of this world? What is meant by praise? What about folks from other religions? Islam provides robust answers to all of these questions and has managed to encapsulate the most powerful ideas into succinct and mellifluous phrases such as “Alhamdulillah.”
How to Use in a Sentence
Below are some examples of the phrase inserted into common sentences:
- “I’ve managed to secure a home, marry a beautiful God-fearing woman, and obtain a steady job with a steady income, Alhamdulillah.”
- “Alhamdulillah, my friend! I’m glad to hear that the operation was successful!”
- “The more I travel and enjoy this life, the more I say Alhamdulillah.”
- “When I meet with you, I appreciate how I can open up my heart without fearing your judgment, alhamdulillah, since not many people can listen and encourage as you do.”
Alhamdulillah in the Qur’an
Perhaps one of the most beautiful facts about this phrase is that it is not only recited by Arabs or solely by Muslims – the Qur’an testifies that several of our prophets made this supplication. Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and those who testify that God is One are all welcome and indeed invited to make this supplication as well, since it is the most basic and fundamental praise being made to the Creator. Now, the Qur’an also testifies that there is such a thing as flattery, or false praise. Additionally, there is also the hypocritical sort of praise, in which the individual in question puts on a show in order to receive praises from others for his or her holiness. In the Scriptures, true praise, or real hamdu, is sincere and generous, done with proper intention and a living intellect, and is submission to God with perfect humility. Just because someone attends the masjid frequently doesn’t mean that their hamdu is true and sincere – only God knows the heart and only God can judge whether or not someone’s thanks and praises are true.
“Alhamdulillah” appears in the Noble Qur’an a grand total of 38 times, and there are five surahs that begin with this praise and invocation (al-Fatiha, al-Anaam, al-Kahf, Saba, and Fatir). When a surah begins with this phrase or whenever a prophet in the Qur’an makes dua with this supplication, it implies a few things: firstly, that every announcement we make ought to begin with the intention of praise; second, that our words ought to be accompanied with a perfect, most beautiful, and most sincere sort of praise; and thirdly, that we are the recipients of a sacred practice and tradition that has spanned the course of several centuries. When we say “Alhamdulillah,” we are reciting what was on the lips of the Honorable Prophet Mohammad and those messengers who preceded him.
Praises of the Prophet
The Messenger of Allah said: “The best remembrance is: ‘there is none worthy of worship except Allah (Lā ilāha illallāh)’ and the best supplication is: ‘All praise is due to Allah (Alhamdulillāh).’”
The Messenger of Allah said: “Any matter of importance which is not begun with Alhamdulillah remains defective.”
Surah an-Nahl ayah 18 testifies to the greatness of Allah, specifically drawing one’s attention to the limitless bounties that our Creator has provided for us. The text encourages the reader to ask him or herself, “can I count the favors of Allah in my life?” My takeaway from the Messenger’s commentary regarding this supplication is that, whether in ease or in hardship, one ought to be able to proudly say “Alhamdulillah.” The Noble Qur’an describes humanity as ignorant, hasty, and ungrateful. Even on our worst days, we tend to forget how many blessings we have on our plates! My automobile is reliable and takes me to work every morning, but when I have car problems, I curse and complain. In other words, I forget about the 364 good days my car had and only remember the one day it’s feeling cranky.
And remember when your Lord proclaimed, “If you are grateful, I will surely increase you in favor.” [Surah Ibrahim: 7]
What is the secret to acquiring peace, love, and happiness? Gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of a life built on these qualities. Psychological self-help books will always mention gratitude as one of the building blocks to leading a happy life; gurus and mentors will always instruct their disciples to give thanks for what they have received; the sages of antiquity from all over the world have agreed upon this matter as well; and the Honorable Prophet Mohammed succinctly summed up this very important matter in a single phrase: “Alhamdulillah.” If you are grateful to your Lord, He promises to increase your blessings, favors, bounties, and rewards, and He is even willing to give you more, if only you knew! So give thanks to the Giver of Life, and do not cease your “Alhamdulillahs,” for there is blessing in meditating upon it, contemplating its meanings, and reciting it in your prayers.
“Alhamdulillah,” Leaman, Oliver. The Quran: An Encyclopedia. Routledge, New York City, NY. 2006.
Jami` at-Tirmidhi 3383 Book 48, Hadith 14.
Riyad as-Salihin 1394 Book 13, Hadith 2.